Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Complex Cooking: My Experience as a Summer Student at SITraN

As a second year Biomedical Science (Neuroscience) Student I wanted to gain an insight into PhD life. I have always loved science and my main interest lies with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Motor Neurone Disease (MND), Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. So where better to spend my summer than at SITraN!   

During my time here I teamed up with Jodie Stephenson, a second year PhD student who showed me the ropes so that I was able to work independently on my project. The aim of my project was to use immunohistochemical staining to investigate whether a TDP-43 Q331K mouse model of MND has signs of TDP-43 mislocalisation in the spinal cord (a key feature in many MND patients), at the six month stage.

My first few weeks involved a lot of observation and whenever I could I would get some hands-on experience of new techniques such as isolation of mitochondria from mouse brain, spinal cord and muscle.
It became apparent very quickly that working in a lab is very much like cooking, the protocol is your recipe and you have to use specific concentrations of your ingredients so that you’re left with a final product that you are satisfied with. Much like cooking, being in the lab involves experimentation with your ingredients, which for me was the optimization of various antibodies until I was happy with the spinal cord staining that was produced. My protocol involved the use of antigen retrieval, a technique that unravels the proteins in the spinal cord sections on my slides so that the antigen (what the antibody binds to) is unmasked, meaning that the antibody binds more successfully. This technique involved placing my slides in a pressure cooker, so at times I was literally cooking my samples!

One of the highlights of my time here at SITraN was having the opportunity to get involved with ‘Soak a Scientist’, a revival of the Ice Bucket Challenge, where we spent the day getting drenched whilst donning lab coats in order to raise funds and awareness for MND research. 
I also acted as a tour guide on the SITraN open day, where I was able to meet both patients and their families. It was clear that the motivation for research here at SITraN is the patients. The progression of knowledge through research is essential in order to generate new treatments that could potentially make a huge difference to the lives of the patients and their families, and the open day made this apparent.  

If I were to give one piece of advice to anyone who is planning to take on a summer placement, it would be to get involved with anything and everything that you can! My mantra was to say ‘yes’ to whatever I could! Learn as many new techniques as you can and ask any questions that you have whether you think they’re trivial or not. I think that it’s also important to dive into the social side of lab work by participating in activities such as cake Friday, open days or anything that is thrown your way. A summer placement is a time to learn as much as you can and make as many new professional connections as possible!

Even though I have spent the majority of my summer on placement, it doesn’t feel as though I’ve lost my summer as I have made the most of my time here and I have met some great people along the way. I have gained confidence in the lab, which will be essential when completing my practical module next year. I’m very grateful to Jodie and Rich for giving up their time so that I could gain this experience, as it has been extremely valuable. 

After seven weeks I’m quite sad to leave the team here at SITraN and not just because of the obscene amount of baked goods that have been consumed in the process! I might still be unsure as to where my degree will take me, but one thing that is certain is that the work and dedication involved in completing a PhD certainly isn’t a piece of cake! 

By Lauren Nuttall

Lauren is a second year Biomedical Science student at the University of Sheffield, who is completing a summer placement here at SITraN before specializing in Neuroscience in her final year.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Soak a Scientist for MND awareness

I’m sure most of you heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge last year, in which participants got doused in water to raise money and awareness for Motor Neurone Disease (MND).
The Ice Bucket Challenge took the world by storm and August 2014 saw the most donations to the Motor Neurone Disease Association on record, raising a phenomenal amount of over
£7 million, £5.1 million of which was put into MND research. Perhaps more importantly, more people were talking about MND than ever before. SITraN took part in our own Ice Bucket Challenge which can still be seen here:

With such a success in 2014, the campaign was restarted for 2015 with the plan to bring back the Ice Bucket Challenge using #EveryAugustUntilACure on twitter. As this idea was circulating, my colleague Ale and I were chatting in the lab one day about doing another SITraN Ice Bucket Challenge and how we’d like to do it differently this year. Next thing we knew we were busy organising an event called Soak a Scientist, involving the public donating £1 to throw water on a scientist in Endcliffe Park. 

The South Yorkshire branch of the MNDA got fully involved and were fantastic in helping us with the planning and logistics of the event. Sheffield City Council member Mary Lea, Councillor for Health, Care and Independent Living, kindly agreed to come along to sign the MND Charter on the day too.

We started to advertise the event using Twitter, Facebook, posters, leaflets and internet forums. Whilst at work one day I even got a phone call inviting us to be on the local radio! A couple of days later, Ale and I were on a way down to Sheffield Live Radio to join MND Association volunteer Ann Quinn for an interview. This was a very bizarre experience as Ale and I are used to public speaking but not being interviewed! It all went very well and was great to promote SITraN, the MND Association, Soak a Scientist and to raise awareness a
bout MND. You can use this link to listen to our interview:

The next step was to keep our fingers crossed that the weather would be nice and the trusty SITraN bakers would produce lots of lovely cakes for our cake stall. They certainly didn’t let us down! I came in to work the day before the event and was unable to see my desk due to the sheer numbers of cakes on there! As always, our colleagues produced incredible cakes in all shapes, sizes and flavours.

To top it off the trusty(!) British summer gave us sunshine and warm weather all day - we were amazingly lucky. The public of Sheffield were incredibly supportive, chatting to us about MND, SITraN, the MND Association, buying lots of cakes and throwing lots and lots of water! Dozens of our wonderful SITraN scientists turned up to help out on the day along with a fantastic team from South Yorkshire MNDA. I have to say that donning a wet lab coat felt pretty awful so a huge thanks to all those who got soaked throughout the day. 

Everyone’s hard work and devotion was all well worth it as we raised a phenomenal £672.76 and lots and lots of awareness. The event was such a success that many are asking whether we’ll do it again next year… any volunteers?

Thanks to al
l the bakers, all the volunteers who helped out on the day,
South Yorkshire MNDA and most of all the Sheffield public who got so involved.

By Jodie Stephenson

Jodie is a 3rd year PhD student investigating translational biomarkers in pre-clinical models of Motor Neurone Disease. Jodie is supervised by
Dr Richard Mead and is part of the Shaw Research Group.

You can follow Jodie on Twitter @neuroruncake, LinkedIn and ResearchGate.